With the season about to begin, now is as good a time as any to see how the Padres stack up against the other teams in the division. Today, we’ll begin with the Arizona Diamondbacks:
Catcher: The D-Backs have rising star Miguel Montero behind the plate. At 29, he is solid on defense, and last year he batted .286 with 15 home runs in 141 games. He also walked 73 times (OBP .391).
The Padres will begin the season with Nick Hundley, whose profoundly disappointing ’12 season (.156) necessitated the call-up of Yasmani Grandal, whose 50-game suspension has suddenly made Hundley relevant again.
First Base: Both teams started rookies last year, and they favorably stack up again this season. Arizona has Paul Goldschmidt, who at 25 hit .286 with 43 doubles and 20 home runs. He also swiped 18 stolen bases. On the down side, his splits show that he favors lefties (.343/.423/.645) over righties (.257/.326/.412). Goldschmidt will occasionally be spelled against the tougher RHP’s by veteran Eric Chavez.
The Padres will again start Yonder Alonso for the majority of games, being occasionally spelled against tougher lefties (by either Jesus Guzman or Kyle Blanks). Last year, Alonso batted (.273/.348/.393) with 39 doubles and 9 home runs. Many watchers, however, believe that Alonso is ready for a breakout season; that a .300 BA with 45-plus doubles and 15-plus homers (especially with Petco’s fences coming in) is within the realm of possibility. In other words, picture Alonso as the next Keith Hernandez, minus Hernandez’ fielding prowess.
Second Base: This is a toss-up, and much depends upon which Aaron Hill shows up: the one who last year batted .302 (.360 OBP) with 44 doubles, or 26 homers, or the one who batted .225 (.270 OBP) for Toronto in 2011 before being traded to Arizona?
The Padres are so high on Jedd Gyorko, they are willing to live with his so-so defense because of what he potentially brings to the plate. Last year, he split time between AA and AAA, and had a .311/.373/.547 line with 30 HR and 100 RBI.
Advantage: Arizona (assuming they hit roughly the same, Hill’s defense is far superior).
Third Base: The D-Backs will likely start former Brave Martin Prado at third base. Solid if not spectacular, he batted .301 with 42 doubles and 10 homers. He will also take an occasional breather against righties in favor of Chavez.
While Chase Headley could miss up to one month, he is the Padres’ best player, following last year’s breakthrough season (.286, 32 HR, and a league-leading 115 RBI).
Advantage: San Diego
Shortstop: Both teams are relatively weak here. It appears that Cliff Pennington and Didi Gregorius (both good-field/no-hit types) will battle it out for the starting job.
Everth Cabrera will likely get most of the starts at SS for San Diego. While he led the league with 44 SB’s, he is inconsistent on the field, and faired poorly against left-handers. He will probably wind up in a platoon-type situation with Logan Forsythe, who was lights-out against lefties (.384/.465/.545).
Advantage: San Diego (barely)
Outfield: Let me preface my analysis here by saying that here, it gets a little tricky; the reason being that unlike the Padres, Arizona manager Kirk Gibson is going to rotate four (maybe even five) outfielders among three positions.
Left Field: Jason Kubel appears to be the primary left fielder, starting against right-handers. He has power (30 HR’s), but he is inconsistent, and doesn’t hit lefties well. Thus, free-agent signee Cody Ross will get plenty of starts against lefties.
Carlos Quentin will start here. But given his recent history, he will likely start no more than 120 games, leaving Mark Kotsay, Guzman, Alexi Amarista, and perhaps even Forsythe to fill in the rest of the time.
Both Kubel and Quentin are known for their mediocre defense.
Center Field: Just as the Padres are high on Gyorko, so the Diamondbacks are high on the talented young Adam Eaton (no relation to the former Padre pitcher who bore the same name). After a September call-up, Eaton sparkled with a .382 OBP, and figures to be a solid leadoff hitter.
Cameron Maybin will begin his third season as the Padres starting center fielder. It is frustrating to watch his tremendous talent go to waste, as he has thus far been an inconsistent hitter. But could this be the year where he finally breaks out?
Right Field: Gerardo Parra figures to get most of the starts here, with Ross spelling him a number of times (starting in the corner OF spots, Ross figures to get roughly 300 AB’s this year). Parra brings solid defense and a decent if not outstanding bat to the table (.273/.335/.392 in 2012).
For the third year in a row, the Padres will platoon Will Venable (.270/.339/.440 vs. righties) and Chris Denorfia (.337/.390/.500 vs. lefties).
Advantage: San Diego (just barely)
Starting Pitching: I’m almost embarrassed to compare the two: San Diego begins the season with Edinson Volquez (1.40 WHIP in ’12) and Clayton Richard at the top of its rotation, followed by a smorgasbord of Andrew Cashner, Eric Stults, Anthony Bass, Tyson Ross, and others.
Question: would any of the Padres’ starters (minus Cory Luebke, due back in mid-season) even have a chance at cracking Arizona’s rotation of Brandon McCarthy, Wade Miley, Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Randall Delgado and/or Patrick Corbin? Not likely.
Relief Pitching: As is a San Diego tradition, the Padres once again have among the best bullpens in baseball. Closer Huston Street blew only one save opportunity last year, and when he got hurt, Luke Gregorson and Dale Thayer admirably filled in. If Bass does not start, he figures to join the two Brad’s (Brach and Boxberger) in middle relief, with Tommy Layne and/or Joe Thatcher returning as left-handed specialists. Nick Vincent and Ross also figure to see time in San Diego.
Arizona also has a formidable bullpen, headed by closer J.J. Putz. A familiar face to San Diegans, Heath Bell, will serve as a veteran presence and setup man. David Hernandez, Matt Reynolds, Tony Sipp, and Brad Ziegler are also featured.
Advantage: San Diego
Bench: Both teams have solid and deep benches. Eric Chavez is a guy most teams would love to have, as he can spot start at 1B, 3B, and DH against RHP’s, and he can pinch-hit. Cody Ross is a valuable fourth outfielder who figures to see lots of playing time as well.
For the Padres, Mark Kotsay is a solid veteran presence who knows and accepts his role. Given their infield mix, the Padres will have some combination of Forsythe, Amarista, and Cabrera either starting or ready to come off the bench. Jesus Guzman or Kyle Blanks will provide right-handed power when it is needed most.
Outlook: The Diamondbacks were one of the most disappointing teams in all of baseball last year. They figured to challenge, but ended at 81-81. They also got worse in the offseason, trading away potential superstar Justin Upton and promising young starter Trevor Bauer, while not getting much in return.
For the Padres, much of the nucleus that finished 57-46 after June 5 last year remains intact. However, there are questions about their starting pitchers. Barring a trade, the Diamondbacks are clearly better here, which overall gives them the edge.
Prediction: Diamondbacks will come in third, the Padres fourth.